May 3, 2008 - April 26, 2008
Monday, June 25, 2007
Something about baggage from the past.
. It's just a silly story
about an unintentional celebrity gaffe:
US actress Cameron Diaz has apologised
for wearing a bag with a political slogan that evoked painful memories
[Diaz] visited the Incan city of Machu Picchu in Peru's Andes wearing
an olive green bag emblazoned with a red star and the words "Serve the
People", perhaps Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong's most famous
political slogan, printed in Chinese.
The bags are marketed as fashion accessories in some cities around the
world, but in Peru the slogan evokes memories of the Maoist Shining
Path insurgency that fought the government in the 1980s and early 1990s
in a bloody conflict that left nearly 70,000 people dead.
"I sincerely apologise to anyone I may have inadvertently offended,"
Diaz said in a statement. "The bag was a purchase I made as a tourist
in China and I did not realise the potentially hurtful nature of the
slogan printed on it."
Okay. Give Diaz a pass. She got caught up in a Chinese fashion trend.
But we've talked here before
about the influences fashion can exert in transforming a culture, and
the truth is that the personality cult of Mao is thriving in this
country as well as China. You don't have to be a movie star to
accessorize like Carmen. You can order these little gems right on the Internet
You know. Just for fun. Or, if your taste in revolutionaries runs
closer to home, you can plop yourself down at the keyboard and order
Many other Che Guevara accessories here
Or you can skip Che and adorn yourself with the memory of his boss,
And, of course, much much more here
I suppose we could all squint a bit and claim that this is nothing but
a sort of nostalgia for the lost Baby Boomer "idealism" of youth.
Nostalgia is what the Germans are calling this odd new development in
their nation's hospitality
Check in here.
The four clocks behind the reception desk of Berlin's new budget hotel
Ostel show the hour in Moscow, Berlin, Havana, and Beijing. Time,
however, appears to have stopped here sometime before 1989, when
communism was still entrenched in all four capitals.
The Ostel offers a renewed whiff of life in the former German
Democratic Republic, welcoming travelers with portraits of communist
leaders adorning the walls...
There are rooms that replicate bedrooms from typical East German
apartments, from about $50. At the other end of the scale, $12-per-bed
Pioneer Camp dorm rooms feature two bunk beds and spartan living
conditions evocative of the summer camps of the Free German Youth, the
party youth organization.
Socialist Unity Party functionaries such as party General Secretary
Erich Honecker and Prime Minister Horst Sindermann peer down from
portraits in most rooms, giving the impression that one is under
Helbig and Sand plan on expanding their East German hotel project with
a series of eight East German-style vacation apartments near the Ostel.
One hotel. No big deal, right? Right? The really good news is that if
you think the old Soviet Union was kind of cool in a retro sort of way,
you don't have to go to Germany. You can go here
buy things like this:
Time and familiarity render all these images harmless. We begin to
associate them with comfortable events in our own experience, and the
ideas and facts they reference are gradually reduced to abstractions
from which we can deliberately exclude unwelcome complications. Like
all contemporary progressive icons, they are more important for the
good original intentions we impute to them than for any inconvenient
excesses that may lurk underneath.
Finally, we tell ourselves that associating ourselves with these
symbols doesn't mean that we're endorsing communism or oppression of
any sort. We're actually turning them into the opposite of that.
If you suggest to the progressives who think like this that what
they're really endorsing is
communism, they are truly astonished and scornful. One of the
(anonymous) commenters at InstaPunk exemplified this doublethink in his
response to a quote he reproduced from one of my Global Warming posts:
"Never let it be said that the morons
who believed in Marxism and defended the slaughters of Stalin are
Oh my, the commies are back? I thought the Gipper wiped them out in
Grenada or something, didn't he? Let me guess, they were hiding under
our beds all this time.
Yet the commenter undoubtedly would defend the imposition of a
'Dictatorship of the Scientific Consensus' in order to save the world
from Global Warming by edict. Any historical parallels with the
disastrous managed economies of the USSR and, say, North Korea don't
apply now because the actual history has been peeled away from the
rationalist model of absolutist social engineering for the common good.
They simply wouldn't repeat any of the worst mistakes of the past,
which were probably exaggerated anyway because look at the crazed
John Birchers who opposed the communists. They were nuts. They had a
blacklist. And what about Vietnam and Iraq and Florida in 2000? You
call that freedom and democracy?
Think I'm overstating the degree of self-deluded rationalization
involved? Perhaps you haven't seen this
in today's Drudge Report?
THE history of the Soviet Union had
fewer black pages in its history than certain other countries, not
least the US, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said in a speech.
"Regarding the problematic pages in our history, yes, we do have them,
as does any state,'' Putin said at a social sciences conference, citing
Stalin's purges during the 1930s.
"But other countries have also known their bleak and terrible
moments,'' he said in comments published on the official Kremlin
"In any event, we never used nuclear weapons against civilians, and we
never dumped chemicals on thousands of kilometres of land or dropped
more bombs on a tiny country than were dropped during the entire Second
World War, as was the case in Vietnam,'' he said.
I'm betting Putin will find some progressives in this country who think
he's scored some major points with this idiotic statement. I can name
at least one who thinks that way, and he certainly has a bunch of
devoted fans. Here's an excerpt of a review
of his latest cinematic demonstration of progressive thought:
In the Cuba section of "Sicko," so many
guys in white coats (don't look at the camera, guys!) scurry around
Moore’s patients listening to symptoms, peering at X-rays and firing up
high-tech medical equipment that the scene seems to have been
co-written by Groucho and Karl Marx. If Fidel himself gets this level
of care, it’s no wonder the guy has outlasted nine presidents.
You can’t film anywhere in Castro’s Alcatraz without government say-so,
meaning the whole scene was as phony as what happens when Frank Bruni
walks into a four-star restaurant, and if there is a Michael Moore of
Cuba, he is in jail right now. Reporters without Borders calls Cuba the
world’s second biggest prison for journalists after China. But Moore
solemnly reports Cuba’s official health statistics, which are of course
a fiction dreamed up by El Presidente, because Moore's motto is to
trust no authority figure from cringing corporate spokesman on up to
Washington windbags. Except dictators. Dictators, he’ll take your word
for it. I expected Moore to protect himself with a thin coat of
disclaimer, just a line to say, "Look, I know Cuba is actually a prison
nation where nobody’s gotten a new car since Fredo betrayed Michael,
but I’m just using this as an extreme example for ironic purposes."
Instead, his irony runs the other way: He plays scare music over an
image of Castro to get a laugh. I say
that again: he thinks the idea that Castro is evil is so obviously
ridiculous that he says it sarcastically and expects you to giggle
along. Moore calls Cuban health care among the best in the
world. Nonsense. Cuba is short on everything from clean drinking water
and aspirin on up. [Emphasis added]
Conservatives who write about this kind of disconnects between
progressives and reality call it 'moral relativism.' They're right, but
in giving it a label that can be easily referenced and repeated, I
think they're overlooking the reality they assume we understand. 'Moral
relativism' is, in plainer words, a double standard, and a double
standard is a comparison test that unfairly values one thing at the
expense of another thing.
We can legitimately ask the question, what is it that progressives are
valuing too highly and what is it they're not valuing highly enough?
The answer to the first part of the question is that they are assigning a
ridiculously high value to the 'good' intention of egalitarianism. The
rational ideal of a society that does not let any person or group
receive more of society's resources than any other outweighs all the
costs it might entail. The common good is best served when all men and
women are so
common that no
individual head sticks out of the crowd (unless one brilliant leader is
needed to keep it that way.) This is why they lionize Castro despite
the universal economic misery his kind of egalitarianism has produced.
The fairness of absolutely equal want and deprivation trumps any
prosperity that might produce winners and losers.
The answer to the second part of the question is that such a rigid
ideal automatically under-values individual liberty and individual
human life. In the utterly rational model, people are indistinguishable
units. Only the sum of units matters. Individual units are expendable,
the more so when they attempt to act as individuals.
Note that any definition of humanitarianism which is prepared to
nullify individual worth without counting the individual human cost of
"serving the greater good" is, in fact, anti
-humanitarian. Progressives of
this ilk find it easy to forget or overlook the massive death tolls of
left-wing despots because what they care about is not people, but The
People, the abstract symbol
they create for every community, political faction, ethnic type,
regional population, or nation-state they can identify by an umbrella
name of some sort. If the equilibrium they define as egalitarianism is
absent, all possible means are justified to attain it, including
beheadings, mass murder, and absolute suppression of freedom.
Egalitarianism is so important, indeed, that it drives them even to
identify with populations who disagree completely with everything else
they believe in. They can champion the cause of woman-hating, Jew-hating Islamists because the
western world prospers while the Islamic haters do not. They can
simultaneously despise Hitler -- and compare all their enemies to him
-- even as they tacitly espouse Hitlerian anti-semitism, because they're
both guilty of anti-egalitarian behavior. Hitler wanted a hierarchical
society. The Jews have acquired too much influence, money, and power.
The progressives don't even see the contradictions.
That's also how they can look under every mattress and see a threat to
vital civil liberties of The People and yet work in dozens of different
ways to reduce or eliminate the individual freedoms they find so
inconveniently conducive to inequity in the Constitution. They'll fight
to the death for the 'common' right of every man, woman, and child to
have unrestricted access to any and every kind of pornography. Yet
they'll dismiss the Constitution's emphasis on political speech as the
single most important kind of speech that must be protected from
That's why they'll be outraged today that the McCain-Feingold statute
limiting free political speech was watered down by the Supreme
. And it's why progressive Senator Diane Feinstein over the weekend
declared herself on the side of limiting another kind of political
WASHINGTON, June 24 (UPI) -- U.S.
Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., said Sunday she is "looking at" the
possibility of reviving the fairness doctrine for U.S. broadcasters.
Feinstein, speaking on "Fox News Sunday" with Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss.,
said talk radio in particular has presented a one-sided view of
immigration reform legislation being considered by the Senate.
U.S. talk radio is dominated by conservative voices...
Asked if she would revive the fairness doctrine, which used to
require broadcasters to present competing sides of controversial
issues, Feinstein said she was "looking at it."
"I remember when there was a fairness doctrine," she said, "and I think
there was much more serious correct reporting to people."
Key word, of course "correct" reporting. Mao would understand. So would
Che and Fidel and 'Uncle Joe' Stalin. That's why they're so willing to
return the favor and 'forget' the savageries summarized below the fold
of this post. Maybe Cameron should give Diane her Mao bag as a gesture of
solidarity. She can always get another one via the Internet.
Friday, June 22, 2007
Feet of Clay
Oxymoron of the Week: Los Angeles
. People are
always saying, "InstaPunk, why can't you be nicer?" They say, "You make
fun of Malkin
you're disrespectful to the Blogfather
you go out of your way to irritate Hugh
you're downright mean to Ace
, you're too snide by half about Sean
, you're actually crazed on the subject of Neal
, and every time you attract the attention of the big
conservative bloggers, all you do is piss
True. I really should be nicer. You know. Hell,
I've even been confrontational with LaShawn
, which is absolutely verboten
on the righthand side of the blogosphere. And now I've made an enemy of
the Duke of Los Angeles, Patterico
(Look at the comments. He comes back again and again and again. I got
under his skin, I guess. You'll note that he never responds to the
substance of my critique, only the legalism that I ascribed to him a
thought he exemplified without explicitly endorsing.)
What's up with that? Is InstaPunk self-destructive? No. InstaPunk is
merely honest. And fed up. Here's who he admires on the right: Thomas
Sowell, Charles Krauthammer, and Mark Steyn. They're all writers, not
bloggers. Most of the righty bloggers are tiresome mediocrities, and we
can't help pointing it out when their posts make it too obvious. Thing
is, the conservative cause really does need first-rate bloggers. It's a
damn shame we don't have them.
Well, except for Glenn Reynolds. That man has a first-rate mind. You
can actually see it dancing across the surface of the Internet like
some waterbug who's on every watercourse at once without ever sinking.
He's a prototype of the glorious future of the human mind --
constantly, dynamically referential, with a nose that pokes into
absolutely everything and yet never gets out of joint. I admire him
more than I can say. It's just that he's not punk enough. He'd much
rather link than fight. Which is his prerogative, of course. That's why
I feel compelled to tweak his nose from time to time. He responds
creatively to the experience. "Oh," he says, and lays out a new field
of references as numerous as ripples on a river.
It's all the other conservative combatants I get tired of. They can
dish it out, but they can't take it. They march off to their
various little wars, but if you have the gall to disagree, they shut
down like a bunch of little girls who can't believe anyone would flout
their whims. You can't possibly know how depressing this is to
InstaPunk, who is mostly older than they are and who finds it utterly
incredible that self-styled conservatives are so hyper-sensitive about
being criticized. It's like getting into the ring with a supposedly
great prizefighter who starts snuffling and tearing up at the first jab
that penetrates his guard.
There are great matters at stake in the world of today. The bloggers on
the left are warriors. They're not smart, but they're game. The
bloggers on the right are, sad to say, pussies. They have no real taste
for combat. They have no stomach for debate. It's a sad state of
affairs. They're little girls playing
in the pool
. And, yes, Patterico, I'm talking about you, too. Quit
worrying about whether I was mistaken in ascribing to you a thought you
linked and respond instead to the real charge I levied against you --
that you're an ignorant snob on the subject of popular culture. An
adult male who doesn't know anything about Michael Schumacher or Annika
Sorenstam is a wuss. And I'm tired of the fact that the battle for
western civilization rests in the hands of so damn many wusses.
As for the rest of you -- Boortz, Goldstein, Ace, et al -- get over
your fragile egos and learn how to fucking write. And the ones who do
know how to write, like, say, Dean Barnett, learn how to fight without
shrieking every time some prole bloodies your nose. That's why
InstaPunk is here. To make you tough enough to go fifteen rounds in the
only ring that matters -- the debate over how our nation might best
survive the ordeals ahead.
We know our place. We're the right-wing blog the right-wingers hate.
Because we recognize mediocrity every time we see it, and we're not
afraid to call you on it. So be it.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
It's got to be lonely in that ivory
AVOIDING THE PROLES
I really don't know what to make of this. Two powerful conservative
bloggers have recently posted personal reactions to the Forbes
list of top 100 celebrities
. Both seem to be taking a certain
perverse pride in not knowing a lot of the names on it. Here's Ilya
from the Volokh Conspiracy:
Looking at Forbes' list... it turns out
that there are 26 of these people that I've never heard of, and another
10-15 whom I vaguely recollect but don't really know what they do....
Just as the average American is rationally ignorant about politics
because it doesn't interest him much, I am rationally ignorant about
Hollywood and pop music stars because most of them don't interest me
much (other than the ones who co-star with Randy Barnett, of course!).
The lesson to be learned, if there is one, is that rational ignorance
is a universal phenomenon, not limited to the "stupid" unwashed masses.
We are all inevitably ignorant about a wide range of topics.
Unfortunately, however, popular ignorance about politics probably
causes more social harm than academic geeks' ignorance about pop
The highest-ranking celebrity I'd never heard of: Jay-Z, ranked no. 9.
Then there's Los Angeles luminary Patterico
who gets very specific:
I list the names of the people I never
heard of in the extended entry. I recognize that I’m particularly
ignorant in this area, but I’m still willing to bet that you’ve never
heard of some of these “celebrities” yourself.
People I never heard of:
Larry the Cable Guy
There were several other people whose names sounded vaguely familiar,
but who I couldn’t place exactly. For example:
Vince Vaughn (I guessed he was a singer, but the wife reminded me he
was in the Wedding Crashers and I then remembered him)
Alex Rodriguez (I thought I didn’t know who he was, but then my wife
said “He’s some sports guy, isn’t he?” and I remembered I knew him as a
big-time home run hitter when he played for my hometown Texas Rangers)
Emeril Lagasse (I have seen his face on sausages I have bought at the
store but didn’t know for sure if that was him because I don’t know his
Annika Sorenstam (I knew she was some kind of sports babe, but thought
her sport was tennis, when it’s actually golf)
Hilary Duff (I thought she was an actress, but apparently I was
thinking of Hillary Swank. This person is a singer of some sort. But I
think I’ve heard the name.)
How about you?
Of the 28 people listed by Patterico, I know 22. And I'm honestly
struggling with the statement, implicitly seconded by Patterico, that
"popular ignorance about politics probably
causes more social harm than academic geeks' ignorance about pop
Whether the statement is true in some absolute sense or not, I can't
escape the logic that it would be almost impossible for an "academic
geek" to view the question any other way. What we don't know, after
all, is obviously less important to us -- and less obviously harmful in
our eyes -- than what we do know. In other words, how could Somin and
Patterico possibly believe otherwise? There's clearly a huge amount of
popular culture they have missed or deliberately ignored. And if
Patterico's commenters are any indication, they're not alone.
I have a problem with that. The people on the list have, collectively,
a huge impact on who we are as Americans and westerners, for both good
and ill. To be ignorant of such a high percentage of them bespeaks a
narrowness and rigidity of interests that may be as injurious to
political perceptions as an inability to name members of the
Jay-Z is number nine on the list because he is a cultural archetype of
the emerging phenomenon of the rapper as business mogul and social
trendsetter. To know nothing of him or 50 Cent suggests a person who
hasn't looked much below the surface of the hip-hop gangsta movement
that's in the process of transforming American (and European) youth in
ways that may
to our future. (And don't claim you've read a book or two about it. If
you haven't heard Jay-Z with Linkin Park, you don't know squat about
Others, primarily sports figures to be sure, represent extremely
significant accomplishments that don't deserve to be patronized even by
'academic geeks.' Michael Schumacher is possibly the greatest Grand
Prix driver of all time. Ditto for Roger Federer in tennis. Annika
Sorenstam is almost certainly the greatest woman golfer in history;
calling her a "sports babe" actively derides the talent, discipline,
character, and perseverance it takes to become the best at anything,
which really does include sports in addition to law practice, academic
research, and political power. LeBron James may be on his way to
breaking the records of Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. I'm
certainly no fan of the NBA, but as with the other sports names
(including Beckham of World Cup fame and A-Rod
of the New
York Yankees, for heaven's sake), the only way I can imagine not
knowing who he is would be through deliberate refusal to discuss
anything with my fellow man but the topics I'm
most interested in. I used to
rail at the kind of hausfrau who lived with a football fan husband for
years without ever learning the first thing about the rules of the
game. It struck me almost as an act of malice, her perpetual ignorance
requiring more effort to sustain than would a modest learning curve. Now I see that women own no monopoly on that kind of small-mindedness.
Several of the actors on the list are noteworthy for having done some
very good work and/or participated in projects that generated social
controversies or large popular followings. If you haven't heard of
Dakota Fanning, you probably missed an affecting movie called Man on Fire
, in which she
and Denzel Washington shone. You also missed the aborted release of Hounddog
, in which
Hollywood suddenly had to reexamine its responsibilities to child
actors because of a scene involving implied child rape. If the name
Daniel Radcliffe means nothing to you, you're probably one of the few
who turned his nose up at the Harry Potter phenomenon, which
simultaneously outraged fundamentalists and attracted young people to
the reading of books more effectively than a decade of lame public
service ads. If you've pigeonholed Vince Vaughn on the basis of a
chance encounter with one bad comedy, I have to feel sad that you're
probably never going to see his tour de force performance in Return to Paradise
, one of
the best movies in years about the meaning of personal moral
responsibility in the ambiguous modern context.
None of these omissions invalidates an individual person's right to
comment on matters political and social, but just how arid and remote
is the mindset of a man whose circle of acquaintance includes no old
lady fan of George Lopez's TV show, no youngster who forces
confrontation with the bizarre persona conveyed by Dane Cook's stand-up
comedy routines, no countrified pals who laugh uproariously at Larry
the Cable Guy, no serious sports fan who scratches his head at
the Paris Hilton-like self absorption and questionable ethics of golf's
enfant terrible Michelle Wie, and no woman or metrosexual
male who gushes enthusiastically about the cooking feats of Paula Deen,
Bobby Flay, and Emeril Lagassis?
I would argue that experience of the culture itself -- its highs, lows,
and in-betweens in a wide range of human pursuits -- is also an
important credential for those who presume to assess where we are as a
nation and where we might go from here. In this perspective, our
celebrities are not simply the kaleidoscope background of the
simple-minded, but a glimpse of potent forces that touch, shape,
inspire, lead, and occasionally mis
the people who are ultimately responsible for making decisions in the
voting booth. If you know nothing of their interests, and care less,
I'm guessing you're darn near as handicapped as the folks who can't
name the three branches of the U.S. government.
At the very least, some contact with the popular culture is invaluable
in perceiving how it is that the great issues of the day seep into the
public consciousness to the extent that they do. If you studiously
dismiss sports and television and the movies as perpetually beneath
you, I will never listen to a word you have to say about the strengths
and weaknesses of the mass media, because these matters are destined to
remain perpetually above you.
And if you don't know who Danica Patrick is, you're definitely an old
fart and probably a eunuch besides.